The Atlanta Hawks' Joe Johnson (2) drives to the basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving in the second half Wednesday.
ATLANTA — Give this to the Atlanta Hawks: They may be short on players, but they’re not short on resilience.
Joe Johnson hit all the key shots down the stretch as the injury plagued Hawks overcame a 16-point deficit early on and a six-point hurdle in overtime, rallying to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-102 Wednesday night.
Barely noticed much of the game, Johnson sure came through when it mattered — a tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation, another big 3 in overtime, then the winner on a pull-up jumper along the baseline with 10 seconds left.
“I don’t look at a shot any different in the first quarter than I do at the end,” said Johnson, who finished with 22 points. “I’ll either hit it or miss it. But I think my chances of making it are really good.”
Both teams missed gimme shots in the final minute of OT. Atlanta’s Zaza Pachulia botched an uncontested layup, similar to another easy one he blew in an overtime loss at Denver a little over a week ago. It didn’t matter when Cleveland’s Alonzo Gee, flying in after Kyrie Irving’s bank shot bounced off the rim, couldn’t get the follow to drop from right underneath the hoop.
The horn sounded, Atlanta coach Larry Drew pumped his fist wildly and the Hawks danced around the court, celebrating their good fortune.
Josh Smith had another huge game for the Hawks with 32 points and 17 rebounds. He converted a three-point play that tied the game at 101, but gladly ceded the winning shot to Johnson.
“That’s the way he earns his money,” Smith said. “He’s a player who hits big shots. He’s definitely come up big for us this year.”
Cleveland reclaimed the lead when Tristan Thompson made one of two free throws. After a timeout, the Hawks went to Johnson, who spun away from Irving and made the shot over Gee.
Still, Cleveland had two shots to pull out the win. Irving was a little too strong off the glass, and Gee grabbed the rebound but left the follow a little short.
“It was a tough loss,” said Irving, who nearly had a triple double with 29 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. “I thought my shot at the end was in, but it’s the law of averages. They are not all going to go in.”
Antawn Jamison added 23 points for the Cavaliers.
Atlanta, playing its third straight game with only 10 available bodies, has managed to stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race despite losing All-Star center Al Horford for most of the season and enduring a rash of less-serious injuries.
“We’re showing a resilience and a will to win,” Smith said. “There’s a different DNA on this team than previous years.”
The fourth quarter was sloppy, but Irving and Johnson provided plenty of thrills in the closing seconds.
First, with Cleveland clinging to an 89-88 lead and a difference of about 2 seconds between the shot clock and the game clock, Irving dribbled the clock down near midcourt, did a complete spin to get away from Kirk Hinrich, burst toward the basket and flipped in the layup with 5.4 seconds left.
The Hawks had to have a 3, and there was no doubt who was going to take it. Johnson got a pick from Pachulia, broke free at the top of the arc and got off the shot over the outstretched left arm of Anthony Parker, flying out in a desperate bid to distract the shooter. No chance. Johnson hit nothing but net, the ball clearing the rim as the red light went off.
A clear path foul on Hinrich helped the Cavaliers push to a 101-95 lead with just 1:27 remaining in the extra period. But the Hawks rallied again. Johnson made a 3 right off a timeout to give Atlanta hope, Jamison missed for Cleveland and the Hawks took off the other way. Smith appeared to drag his pivot foot a bit as he pulled up, but it wasn’t called. Instead, he made the shot and drew the foul on Jamison, leading to a three-point play that tied it at 101.
“We gamble, we give up a 3, then we foul on a driving lay-up. So within 30 seconds it’s a tie ballgame,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott moaned. “I’m not going to say we gave them the game … but the bottom line is, at the end of that game, we just made bad choices.”
Cleveland started like it was going to blow the Hawks right out of their own building. The Cavaliers made eight of their first nine shots, including three from outside the arc, and jumped out to a double-digit lead before the game was 6 minutes old. They stretched it to 36-21 by the end of the first quarter and had their biggest edge, 42-26, when Omri Casspi soared through the lane for a thunderous dunk with 8 1/2 minutes left in the half.
From there until halftime, it was all Hawks, with an unlikely spark from the far end of the bench — 37-year-old Jerry Stackhouse.
Barely used most of the season, he came in with 3:46 left in the period and the Hawks still down 48-40. Stackhouse connected on a couple of 3-pointers, sandwiched around a dunk that showed he still has a little bounce in those old legs. He trotted off the court at halftime breathing heavily but savoring chants of “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”
Notes: G Willie Green returned for the Hawks after missing 10 games with a hamstring injury, but that was negated by the absence of F Ivan Johnson, who missed the game to be at the birth of his child in Texas. F Marvin Williams (hip flexor) and F Vladimir Radmanovic (back) were also out. … Cleveland was missing G Daniel Gibson, who sat out with a sprained left ankle and remains day to day.